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Alyssa Nakken

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By Daniel Dunaief

Alyssa Nakken

For Lori Perez, Alyssa Nakken was a can’t-miss softball prospect. Perez was an Assistant Softball Coach at Sacramento State University, while Nakken was, at the time, a junior at Woodland High School in California.

“She was a no-brainer,” Perez said. “She was 5’10”, athletic, and played multiple sports [including basketball and volleyball]. She was home grown and had great family support.”

Indeed, when Perez saw Nakken, who was a pitcher during high school, he witnessed a player who was throwing 64 miles per hour at her father, Robert Nakken, a lawyer.

“Seeing her out there, grinding away, I could see her making an impact,” Perez said.

What Perez witnessed during Nakken’s four years at Sacramento State, which included two years as captain, was a player determined to push herself on and off the field. When Nakken was recently named the first female assistant coach of the San Francisco Giants, a team Nakken and Perez support as fans, Perez was delighted and thrilled not only for women, who have earned jobs men had held for years, but also for her former player.

Perez believes Nakken will be as successful through her contributions to the Giants as she was with softball teams she helped lead.

Nakken, who will not be in the dugout during games, will throw batting practice and will work on base running and team unity.

Nakken has a “great personality” and is “charismatic,” Perez said. The question, however, is whether baseball players will listen to her.

“She will prove herself, no doubt,” Perez offered.

Perez recalls observing Nakken watch videos, ask questions and put in considerable extra work.

“She went above and beyond to push herself,” Perez said. Nakken “put in long hours, knows the game well, understands how it’s supposed to be played and how hard and often you need to practice.”

The game of softball has numerous differences from its baseball cousin, including a smaller diamond, no leading, a bigger ball, and different starting point for bunt defenses.

Nakken, who has been working with the Giants since 2014, will be able to rely on some of the similarities to a game she excelled in as a player, while also tapping into a deep reservoir of energy and determination to contribute to a different sport, Perez suggested.

Megan Bryant, the head softball coach at Stony Brook University, said the fundamentals in the two games are similar.

“Fielding skills and arm angles [for throwing] are similar,” Bryant said.

Perez said middle infielders in both sports drop their left leg after they field a ball to throw to make a side arm throw at the start of a double play.

Perez recalled how she was holding her young daughter one day and was looking for a diaper while Nakken was taking batting practice. Nakken hit a ball that flew at the Perez and her infant daughter Caroline. At the last minute, Perez turned so the ball hit her arm and her daughter’s leg.

“She felt terrible,” Perez said, laughing about the incident now. “I knew I shouldn’t have been standing there. You think in terms of family connections and how close you get with these players. It’s huge.”

Indeed, Perez believes Nakken was fortunate to continue her softball career after she was in a car accident in which her vehicle flipped over.

“I have no idea how she walked out of that car accident alive,” Perez said. “She must have had an angel looking over her shoulder that day.”

Nakken had a storybook ending to her senior year. During senior day, she crushed a home run to left field in her first at bat. In her second time at the plate, she hit another home run to right field. The third time up, she crushed a ball to deep center field that the outfielder caught. Nakken ended up going two for four with three runs batted in during a game Sacramento State won 12-4.

“She was the kind person that people took a step back because of her presence,” Perez said.
Photos courtesy of Bob Solorio/Sacramento State Athletics

Alyssa Nakken is the first female coach on a major league staff in baseball history.

By Daniel Dunaief

There may be no crying in baseball, as Tom Hanks famously said in the movie “A League of Their Own,” but there is, thanks to San Francisco Giants and Alyssa Nakken, now a woman in baseball.

Last week, for the first time in the 150-year history of the game, a woman joined the ranks of the coaches at Major League level.

The hiring of Nakken, 29, follows the addition of women in the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.

While it may seem past time that America’s pastime caught up with the times, members of the Long Island athletic and softball communities welcomed the news.

“I hope that it becomes more of the norm rather than the exception,” said Shawn Heilbron, athletic director at Stony Brook University.

For Megan Bryant, who has been the head softball coach at Stony Brook since 2001 and has collected more than 870 career wins, Nakken’s new job creates a path that others can follow.

“For the Giants and Major League Baseball and women in sports careers, that’s a big deal and is a step forward,” Bryant said. “It will open other doors for other women.”

Bryant said teams can and should recognize the wealth of coaching talent among men and women.

“If you’re a great coach, it shouldn’t matter the gender of the athletes you’re coaching,” Bryant said. 

Lori Perez, who was an assistant softball coach at Sacramento State University when Nakken played and is now head coach, said the news gave her “goose bumps.”

The hardworking Nakken, a two-time captain at Sacramento State, once asked her coaches to stop a low-energy practice so the team could refocus and flush their negative energy, Perez said.

Nakken’s parents had “high expectations for her but, even better, she had high expectations for herself,” which included doing well academically and helping out in summer camps, Perez said.

Patrick Smith, athletic director at Smithtown school district, believes these first few female hires in men’s sports are a part of a leading edge of a new trend.

“We will see more and more [women joining professional sports teams] as time goes on,” Smith said. In Smithtown, women constitute greater than half of all the athletes at the high school level.

Among the six senior women on Stony Brook’s softball team, three members are considering a career in sports after they graduate, Bryant said.

While the Women’s College World Series softball games have drawn considerable fan attention, attendance at women’s college and professional sporting events typically lags that of men.

The Long Island community can provide their daughters with a chance to observe and learn from role models at the college and professional levels by attending and supporting local teams.

“It’s frustrating that the women’s games aren’t drawing close to what the men’s teams are,” said Heilbron. The Stony Brook women’s basketball team, which includes standout junior India Pagan among other talented players, is currently 18-1. This is the best start in program history.

“I hope people will come” support the team, Heilbron said. “If you come, we believe you’ll come back.”

As for women in high profile roles, Bryant, who is looking forward to the addition of six new players to her softball squad this year, believes each step is important on a longer journey toward equal opportunity.

“Whether it’s in sports, science or politics, we’re making strides,” Bryant said. “But we still have a long way to go.”

Perez, who has two children, is thrilled that “women can dream of things they couldn’t dream of before,” thanks to Nakken and other female trailblazers inside and outside of the sports world.